To sacrifice the valuable, Jesus would have had to give up his eternal life in heaven.
God said to the Israelites: “What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” (Jeremiah 6:20). It is not surprising therefore that Solomon also says: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1). Christians would do well to heed these counsels.
Why are sacrifices so objectionable to God? Jesus teaches that if something is of men, it cannot be of God. He says to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus also says if something is from men, it cannot be from heaven and vice-versa. Accordingly, he asked the Pharisees: “The baptism of John- was it from heaven or from men?” (Mark 11:30). Sacrifice is of men; therefore it cannot be of God.
Men have always seen sacrifice as the way to worship deities. Primordial man sacrificed. Idol-worshippers sacrifice. Devil-worshippers sacrifice. In the bible, men sacrificed even before the Law of Moses. But God has no need for sacrifices. Hear him: “I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens.” (Psalm 50:9). “Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” (Psalm 50:13). Thanks to Jesus, we now know that: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24).
Jesus says: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13). When we follow this injunction, we discover that sacrifice is incompatible with the abundant mercy of God. God does not withhold forgiveness to the penitent, pending the offering of a sacrifice. If he does, the Father of the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable would not have rushed out to embrace his returning errant son. He would have asked him first and foremost: “Where is your sacrifice?” However, instead of requiring the blood of bulls and the fat of rams, it was the Father who killed the fattened calf in celebration of his son’s return.
God desires love without sacrifice. By its very nature, a sacrifice is hardly ever given whole-heartedly because we are required to sacrifice what we love. However, the love God requires comes “with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.” (Matthew 22:37). That means it cannot be sacrificial. A sacrifice involves loss. The man who gives sacrificially loses the valuable thing he gives. Therefore, there is often discontentment in sacrifices.
But with love, there is no loss: there is only gain. When we truly love, we don’t give sacrificially; we give wholeheartedly. The man who gives out of love loses nothing. There are no grounds for disgruntlement because he delights to do the will of God. Accordingly, David acknowledges to God: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire; my ears you have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering you did not require. Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do your will, O my God, and your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8).
When Jesus told the chief young ruler to go and sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor as precondition for inheriting the kingdom of God, the man saw the requirement as a sacrifice and refused to fulfil it. But the love God desires is not sacrificial. It is one where we give God everything without batting an eyelid because we are completely overwhelmed by his love. This is why Jesus says: “Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).
Jesus insists on love and not sacrifice. God never takes anything valuable from us. He only insists that we give up rubbish in order to receive the Excellency of all things, which is God himself. Just listen to Jesus: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46). Buying this precious pearl does not involve any sacrifice.
Sacrifices are evil and unjust. Jesus says: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7). With every blood-sacrifice, the innocent is killed. Such injustice contravenes the mercy of God. Therefore God says: “Whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood.” (Isaiah 66:3).
The kingdoms of men are built on the injustice of sacrifices. We build kingdoms on the blood of others. We sacrifice slaves; we sacrifice blacks; we sacrifice minorities; we sacrifice the poor; we sacrifice women; we sacrifice the under-privileged. Therefore, God who is love cannot be part of any sacrificial system, including the one allegedly ascribed to Jesus. But God is at the centre of every truly loving system.
False religion justifies violence as sacrifice. But true religion exposes this as deception. Sacrificial systems are founded on violence and killings. Once sacrifice is falsely construed as a basic requirement of faith, cruelty is the answer. Sacrifice often entails the shedding of blood. In the bible, the children of Israel sacrificed their neighbours, sacrificed their prophets, sacrificed their children and they sacrificed Jesus, their Saviour. Leviticus depicts a bizarre society that regarded the spilling of blood as a means of maintaining an ungodly religious civilisation.
Hatred of life
Jesus sacrificed nothing by allowing himself to be killed. On the contrary, he traded the futility of this world for the glory of the Father. That is the antithesis of a sacrifice. Jesus said to his disciples on his departure: “If you loved me, you would rejoice because I said, ‘I am going to the Father.’” (John 14:28). Where then is the sacrifice?
Jesus teaches that: “The man who loves his life will lose it.” (John 12:25). Accordingly, Jesus himself hated his life on earth. If he had lived to a ripe old age, that would have been a sacrifice for him. But he died young; ensuring that he went back quickly to the Father he loves. That is not a sacrifice. A man who gives up what he hates does not make a sacrifice. A man who hates his life cannot sacrifice his life.
Jesus says: “Love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13). Jesus is not asking us to sacrifice here: he is asking us to love. A sacrifice implies the loss of something valuable; but life in this world is disposable. To sacrifice the valuable, Jesus would have had to give up his eternal life in heaven.